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Mobile phones are well and truly part of our everyday lives, from reminding us which groceries to buy at the store, to allowing us to access our work email from anywhere in the world.
But, could your phone be used as a mobile health advice service? Or, should it be?
There's a growing trend towards mobile health (or mHealth), but it's not just a case of 'download and go'. If you're relying on an app to improve your wellbeing, you need to check the science.
Here are three interesting mHealth apps and the research behind them.
GlassesOff claims it can "train your vision to read without glasses" through "enhancing your brain's image processing function." By completing 12-minute sessions three times a week, users are said to be able to notice a difference in their eyesight in two months.
The science: GlassesOff, by InnoVision Labs, is supported by research including a study by the University of California Berkeley, which found that "all subjects, previously unable to read standard newspaper-sized fonts without reading glasses, were able to read freely after the GlassesOff program."
Happify aims to reduce stress and anxiety by offering tools and programs to help you take control of your emotional wellbeing. The app provides exercises and games to negotiate issues such as negative thoughts, stress, self-confidence, career success and mindfulness, and even assigns daily tasks with rewards to keep you motivated and on track.
The science: Happify was developed by experts in the emotional health field, and is backed by a plethora of research – when they make a claim, they often link to the supporting studies or reports. Creators of Happify believe there is a science to happiness, and that "happiness is a skill that you can build with consistent practice." They say that 86% of regular Happify users report feeling better about their lives after two months of using the app.
Constant Therapy is a speech therapy app targeted at users who are recovering from a stroke or brain injury, have conditions such as aphasia or dementia, or suffer from other speech-language disorders. The app claims to "improve speech, language, cognition, memory, reading, attention and comprehension skills with 65 categories of tasks, over 60,000 stimuli and 10 difficulty levels."
The science: A recent Boston University study found that stroke and brain injury patients who incorporated Constant Therapy into their recovery routine improved significantly more than patients who only received in-clinic therapy. The app was developed by scientists at Boston University and has won awards from the American Stroke Association and AARP (formerly the Amercan Association of Retired Persons).
Mobile health is said to improve patient engagement and make users "more actively involved in managing their health" which may assist in promoting healthier behaviours.
The risks of any health-related apps is placing too much faith in technology. It's great to take your health into your own hands, but remember that apps don't take the place of a doctor's visit.
When experimenting with mobile health technology you should always look at the software's function, reputation, reviews and research with common sense and a touch of cynicism. Investigate whether the app has received any medical or government approval, and always consider where and how your personal data will be stored.
Science-based apps from reputable sources can definitely offer benefits when they are based on research. There have also been advances in the creation and regulation of health apps which means you can look forward to a safer, more trustworthy future in mobile health.